Darksiders: Wrath of War Review

on January 12, 2010 11:48 AM

I waited countless months for Darksiders to arrive. After hearing that comic book artist Joe Madureira had created and designed the majority of elements in the game, I was grinning like a possum eating shit out of a light socket. It brought a warm fuzzy feeling to my tummy – sort of like the feeling you get when you’re first about to get laid. Months passed and, after finally getting my hands on Darksiders, I beat the game, unmercifully unleashing all sorts of devastating moves on the creatures that permeated the solitary cadaverous world that was once Earth.

Darksiders, developed by Vigil Games and published by THQ, takes one of the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse – War – through an open world of adventures as he desperately fights to uncover the reason behind the prematurely induced apocalypse. Sent by a mediator group, The Charred Council, War must regain his lost powers and bring down those responsible for the Armageddon on the earth.

darksiders01lgFrom the beginning, you will immediately become familiar with a lot of the game’s core mechanics and essential features. It might seem too familiar even, being that a lot of the game feels and plays a lot like classics such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Devil May Cry – which isn’t a surprise being that Joe Madureira is a fan of both titles. However, many would go to think that because Darksiders took so much from other games, it would lack in providing its own unique and distinguishable traits.

Like many games nowadays, Darksiders has taken what other games before it have done so well and successfully fused some of it into an entertaining experience. The mini-map, the targeting system, open-world exploration, weapons and tools and their button assignments, just to name a few, are perfect examples of how Darksiders suffers from establishing a self-proclaimed identity, but alleviates the thought by furnishing a pleasant experience. Because it does heavily borrow from other well-known titles, it doesn’t mean that the implementations were unsatisfying. Almost everything adopted worked well throughout the game.

The battle system in Darksiders was mediocrity at its best. Although, at first, it does seem satisfying to pull off the divinely enticing combos, I felt that it quickly became bland because of the limited use of the main attack button, which became extremely repetitive. The secondary weapons, such as the Scythe and the Tremor Gauntlets, were great additions, but would fall short of usage since the numbers of combos were, again, limited (unless you’re fighting massive mobs). Executions were somewhat gratifying, but just became more of an easier way to dispose of your enemies rather than adding depth and a sense of accomplishment when disposing of much tougher foes. Battles were beautifully performed visually but, after a couple of hours into the game, it became more of a chore rather than an engaging and exhilarating experience. Variety wasn’t a strong undertaking in the process of combat. Spamming the attack button, with an occasional addition of the secondary weapons, is as extensive as combat is ever going to get.

The battle takes a toll because of how linear it is. Like God of War, executions will prompt you to press a button, which is displayed over the damaged enemy’s head. Where Darksiders fails here, however, is that instead of issuing quick-time events (button sequences following the input of the player), I was left to ogling regurgitated animations. This becomes kind of a bummer when fighting bosses as it dramatically decreases the overall difficulty of the fight.

Speaking of boss battles… It wasn’t too much of a challenge, personally, to down them. Like in 3D Zelda games, you’re to execute three stages of consecutive attacks; the only difference is that in the third phase, after you have hacked and slashed your ass off, a button will prompt over them where an animation of War sodomizing them with his enormous sword will ensue; an enormous sword it definitely is, my friends. One can only imagine the size of War’s biceps concealed under his exorbitant armor which, in itself, looks heavier than fish net full of whale nuts.

Later on in the game, War reunites himself with his fierce gargantuan horse, Ruin – probably the most badass horse I’ve seen in a game. You’ll first get him and ride him as you beat the crap out of giant worms and whatnot. Many will compare it to Shadow of the Colossus and Ocarina of Time, but it really doesn’t apply here since Ruin isn’t ridden unless you’re somewhere in the Ashlands running circles around the sand, or on your way to the web-cluttered Iron Canopy. Other than that, however, Ruin becomes as useless as a paralyzed stripper at a bachelor party. Deep down inside, I wished and prayed that there were more use for him rather than riding him in solitude in the desolate desert lands where he was found, but the Darksiders doesn’t offer enough playroom outside of the literal sandbox that he gallops in.

darksiders-wrath-of-war-impressionsOne of the most appealing and somewhat challenging aspects of Darksiders has to be the puzzles in the game. Although some might find it difficult, and/or excruciatingly annoying, I feel that this is one of the game’s most appealing features as it generally requires a hefty amount of logic. The puzzled dungeons that require a large amount of patience due to its length usually rewarded me with new toys to make exploration and combat somewhat more diverse. Those of you familiar with any of the 3D Legend of Zelda games will be completely familiar with what you find in these bewildering dungeons. From the Crossblade (boomerang) used to hit multiple targets, to the Abyssal Chain (hookshot) to swing to and from hanging chasms, the similarities will be ascertainable.

Though some of the goodies you find in the game work effectively to your advantage throughout the game, there are some things that are just… well, short lived. Things like time-slowing weren’t creatively implemented throughout the game. The thing is used a handful of times and then is just scrapped, in a sense. Sadly, this is just one of the elements that fall into how we think about condoms: Dispose immediately after use. It’s great that we get a husky amount of gear. But what good is it when its uses become limited after you’ve completed the dungeon you obtained it in? (This is only relevant to some gear).

Life and Wrath shards were hidden throughout the world. Objects that – when combine in pieces of four – increases War’s overall health or Wrath meter (which is used to perform special attacks) by one bar. Believe me, folks – the one thing you will need tons of in this game is definitely health. As clunky and as intimidating as War looks, the man cannot take a hit (unless you’ve gained the Abyssal Armor). A couple of blows from the enemy and you were pretty much going bye-bye. So you have to be quick and learn how to master the art of dashing, timing and blocking; and blocking is pretty tedious being that it has to be done while stationary. Any attempts to do it while on the move lead good ol’ War to dash – something that can become problematic when fighting groups.

The apocalyptic world is beautifully portrayed in an art style unique to Joe Madureira and the other artists from Vigil Games. If you’ve followed Madureira’s artwork, you’d pretty much know that his style combines Japanese anime and comic book elements and meshes them into one beautifully crafted concoction. Some people might confuse it with World of Warcraft art because of the bulky artwork and wonderful use of color, but World of Warcraft is far from this level of appeal. The textures and models in both characters and the world were handsomely well done – especially when one takes into consideration that this is Vigil’s first game.

But visuals don’t do any game justice unless there is depth in the game. Darksiders is a whole lot of entertaining action; there is absolutely no doubt about it. There will be moments when you will hesitate putting the controller down because of how alluring the game is the first couple of hours. But what made the game somewhat less appealing is the character development. Darksiders will introduce you to a world of characters that will undoubtedly attract you to them at first sight. But there isn’t much to these characters aside from what you see and hear from the first time you interact with them. Each and every meeting feels as epic as the last one you encountered. That feeling, though, is short lived once you have completed their requests of whatever they ask you for. Once you’ve completed the requested task, you get what you came for, and it’s farewell. Characters like the kickass Ulthane, which we could have gotten into more, is a perfect example of how Vigil fell short in giving any sort of emotional values between the characters and the player.

While playing the PlayStation 3 version of the game, I didn’t notice any screen tearing, as made infamous on the Xbox 360 console. So, for this reason, I will solely base my opinion of this review on the PlayStation 3 platform. However, although I didn’t experience any screen tearing throughout my run, what I did experience was a shit ton of freezes. Freezes that, at times, made me question whether or not my TV and console deserved the beating of a lifetime. The freezing became much more of an inconvenience three or so hours before the last boss fight – where, during many occasions, the game would freeze for a number of seconds rendering it almost unplayable. I’d snack on Lunchables and down me a Capri Sun while this entire process was taking place. A very annoying problem that teased the thought of not playing the game in its entirety.

darksiders-preview-screenshot

It’s known from the very beginning that the world has gone to utter shit. Every living thing, with the exception of crows for whatever reason, has been marked off on the extinction list. Given, it is a post-apocalyptic setting, and it definitely gave me the sense of isolation that I was expecting. The only things pacing around on the surface of the dead earth are monsters and demons and, occasionally, heaven’s withering angelic champions. And though the game is vast in size, there weren’t many moments in which I was completely left breathless or felt any sense of wonder. This could be that, a lot of the time, the game just felt domestic – as if I’ve done a lot of it before.

Although Darksiders does have its quirks, just as every other game does, and might feel as it suffers from an identity crisis, it did what it was supposed to do – entertain me. Even after I beat the game, I found myself going back farming souls – which you obtain from fallen enemies – in order to present them to the demonic vendor Vulgrim, who supplied me with the necessary weapons and ability upgrades, and a handful of useful items that became godsends throughout my adventure. If, like me, you’re an obsessive jerky with regards to hunting for treasure chests, you’ll find plenty of reason to backtrack to previously visited locations in order to obtain shards to boost your meters, find weapon enhancements (and there is a bunch of those), and Abyssal shards in order to put together the Abyssal armor set, which isn’t only sexy looking, but also provides a defense boost and regenerates War’s health as you hack away at your enemies.

darksiders-wrath-of-warAside from the beautiful and unique art style that is presented in Darksiders, the things that shine beyond it deserve applause. The stages and bosses are immaculately and impressively built, definitely showing that these critical areas were well thought out by the folks over at Vigil Games. The animations were fluid and beautifully well administered throughout Darksiders giving the game the umph that it surely needed to charm players.

The voice acting, I felt, was well done. Although the dialogue isn’t something that will be imprinted in your memories, the overall performance was satisfying – especially when you take into consideration how ridiculously awesome Mark Hamill played Watcher – War’s whip-cracking stalker who follows him to make sure he does the will of The Charred Council.

Darksiders is a great game for anyone looking to get their hands on some action/adventure for a couple of days. Though it heavily draws a lot of its mechanics from well-known titles, Vigil combined these nostalgic elements and gave us a well-executed and entertaining game. A lot of the beefs in combat and depth can easily be forgiven as the game makes up for it in sheer frolic. Screen tearing wasn’t an issue on my end, but the freezes were a problematic. Those of you with little patience should consider closing your eyes and counting to ten, or walking out of the room for a number of seconds before rage consumes you and you’re beating yourself over the head with a shoe.

As much as I tried to judge Darksiders individually, it became extremely difficult to do so because of how much it mimicked other games in the most critical areas. Other games take elements from other games and try to improve on them in order to set itself apart in some ways. They adapt it so that it is cleverly implemented and, although it is key to the overall experience of the game, hide it so the things that are unique to the game outweigh everything else. To me, it felt as though Darksiders took a lot of what was out there and slapped it in the game only changing the visible layers. Because of this, it is exorbitantly difficult to set Darksiders apart and not consider how much like “insert name of game here” it is. It’s definitely a great game. The things that it did borrow does work well with it. It just doesn’t give me anything that stands out as distinctively unique. Games are remembered for the innovative elements they bring to gaming, or for a story that the player can emotionally attach themselves to. Sadly, Darksiders didn’t offer too much of either.

With the gripping conclusion of this game, there is no doubt that I’m praying that a sequel is produced. As this is Vigil’s first game, I’m sure that a lot of what plagues Darksiders will be ironed out in a sequel. Vigil Games accomplished what they set out to do: Provide the gaming community with a title that is absolutely enjoyable with a solid replay value. Although it won’t be labeled a masterpiece per se, Darksiders is definitely a good game that any fan of the genre should embrace.

  • Title: Darksiders: Wrath of War
  • Developer: Vigil Games
  • Publisher: THQ
  • MSRP: $59.99
  • Review Copy Info: A copy of this game was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for reviewing purposes.
 /  Co-Founder
Born and raised in New York City, Yaris is one of three co-founders at DualShockers. Gaming since the inception of Nintendo in the 80's, he has grown to avidly appreciate games of every genre, maturing his preference specifically now to third-person action games, first-person shooters and JRPGs. He's a software engineer, father and husband during the day, and mildly attempts to hold onto his "hardcore gamer" title during the evenings. An attempt that he tends to fail miserably at.
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